IT all started with some chocolates. Some tests were carried out and traces of porcine DNA were found. And just like that, pandemonium ensued. These chocolates were shunned like the plague. People were up in arms. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) raced to hold press conferences, falling over themselves to show the nation how they represented the Malay-Muslim masses.
There are legitimate issues at the heart of this controversy. Consumers have the right to know what they consume. Producers of food products have the responsibility and obligation to ensure that their products are as stated and that they are not contaminated with foreign elements. Consumers are also entitled to place their trust in a certification body when they certify the nature of the product, in this case, the "halal-ness" of those chocolates. If the producers or those who certify have been in any way malicious, reckless or negligent in their duties, legal recourse may lie with the consumers.
Individuals and organisations have the right to highlight these issues, to voice their concerns, frustrations and even anger at what they perceive to be a betrayal of their trust. There may be reservations as to whether a legal suit may be sustained, but those who feel wronged have the option to bring the matter to Court.
However, in expressing their sentiments on the matter, many of these NGOs have made mockery of the religion and the community that they claim their represent. According to them, consuming these "tainted" chocolates have caused haram elements to course through their blood, risking the faith of those who consumed the chocolates. "Blood cleansing" must be done in order to purify the blood of Muslims who consumed the chocolates. Also, according to them, Muslims who ate those chocolates can no longer perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. And so, a jihad has been declared against the chocolate producer.
None of what these NGOs claim have any basis in religion. Not even the most conservative interpretations of Islamic tenets have edicts on "blood cleansing". If this were the case, it would mean that all those who convert to Islam must undergo this blood cleansing exercise in order to "purify" themselves from what they consumed before embracing Islam.
On the contrary, if a Muslim consumes something forbidden, or haram, without knowledge, such consumption itself is not deemed as haram. Muslims are supposed to take it on good faith when something is stated to be halal, that it is indeed halal, and if it later turns out that it is not, what is consumed is still halal. This is not some "liberal" interpretation of the religion but the orthodox and prevailing view in such matters.
This is supported by a lucid and thorough fatwa issued by the National Fatwa Council, in what some remarked as a rare instance of rationality. According to the council, those chocolates are halal as Muslims are not obligated to the extent of carrying out tests on each and every bar of chocolate in order to determine whether there are traces of porcine DNA. If the preparation of such products complied with halal requirements, and if later some batches have been exposed to non-halal elements without knowledge and with no way of determining which batches were contaminated, the chocolates as a whole are halal.
"Islam is not a religion that is too rigid and causes an inconvenience to its believers, especially in a situation that is beyond their knowledge or control," the council’s spokesperson was reported to have said. Indeed, this is another underlying principle of the religion that cuts across all aspects of Muslim life; that the religion, being a way of life, does not impose inconvenient and unreasonable burdens on Muslims.
Which brings us back to the NGOs who bayed for blood just before the fatwa was issued. The silence from them after the council issued the fatwa is deafening. No more talk of jihad, of blood cleansing or obstructions to performing the pilgrimage. If these people are so firm in their convictions and believe in what they have so confidently expressed when pressmen were around, why have they not objected or disagreed with the fatwa? More likely, however, is the fact that as men and women "defenders" of the Malay-Muslim masses, going against the council would be taking it too far.
But the damage is done. And the damage is to Islam and Muslims as a whole. Once again, the religion bears the brunt of the words and actions of its adherents. The religion is made to look like one that imposes burdens on believers far beyond their control. And Malays and Muslims are made to look irrational and extreme, not to mention illogical.
The country also suffers - as the foreign press reports of jihad launched on account of the chocolate, our insistence that we are a "moderate Muslim country" rings more hollow than ever.
The actions of these people have caused more damage to Islam and Muslims than a few batches "contaminated" chocolates.